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Swanson, Criminal Investigation 8/e
Criminal Investigation, 8/e
Charles R. Swanson, University of Georgia
Neil C. Chamelin, Assistant State Attorney, Second Judicial Circuit
Leonard Territo, University of South Florida- Tampa

Injury and Death Investigations

Chapter Outline

I. THE LAW (See Slide 9-2)

A. The various state statutes contain different names for felonious assaults, such as aggravated assault, assault with intent to commit murder, felonious battery, and so forth, but all have certain common legal elements, namely that the assault was committed for the purpose of inflicting sever bodily harm or death.

B. Nonfelonious Homicides

Nonfelonious homicides may be justifiable or excusable.

1. Justifiable homicide is the necessary killing of another person in performance of a legal duty or the exercise of a legal right when the slayer was not at fault.

2. Excusable homicide differs from justifiable homicide in that one who commits an excusable homicide is to some degree at fault but the degree of fault is not enough to constitute a criminal homicide.

C. Felonious Homicides

Felonious homicides are treated and punished as crimes and typically fall into two categories:

1. Murder is defined by common law as the killing of any human being by another with malice aforethought.

2. Manslaughter is a criminal homicide committed under circumstances not severe enough to constitute murder, yet it cannot be classified as either justifiable or excusable homicide.


A. Criminal Enterprise Homicide

Criminal enterprise homicide entails murder committed for material gain.

B. Personal-Cause Homicide

Personal-cause homicide is motivated by a personal cause and ensues from interpersonal aggression; the slayer and the victim(s) may not be known to each other.

C. Sexual Homicide

In sexual homicide, a sexual element (activity) is the basis for the sequence of acts leading to death.

D. Group-Cause Homicide

In group-cause homicide, two or more people with a common ideology sanction as act, committed by one or more of the group’s members, that results in death.


A. In responding to the scene of a suspected homicide or assault, fundamental rules must be followed.


A. Scene Safety

Determining scene safety for all investigative personnel is essential to the investigate process.

B. Confirm or Pronounce Death

Appropriate medically trained personnel must make a determination of death prior to the initiation of the death investigation.

C. Participate in Scene Briefing with Attending Agency Representatives

Scene investigators must recognize the varying jurisdictional and statutory responsibilities that apply to individual agency representatives (e.g., law enforcement, fire, EMT, judicial, legal).

D. Conduct a Scene Walk-Through

Conducting a scene "walk-through" provides the investigator with an overview of the entire scene.


A. Ensuring the integrity of the evidence by establishing and maintaining a chain of custody is vital to the investigation.

B. A properly maintained chain of custody and prompt transport of the evidence will reduce the likelihood of a challenge to the integrity of the evidence.


A. Some examples of the tools and equipment necessary for conducting an appropriate crime scene investigation in homicide cases: gloves; writing implements (pens, pencils, markers); body bags; communication equipment (cell phone, pager, radio); flashlight; body ID tags; camera (35-millimeter camera, video camera, Polaroid).


A. The medico-legal examination brings medical skill to bear upon injury and death investigations.

B. The medical specialist frequently called upon to assist in such cases is the forensic pathologist.

1. Forensic pathology, a subspecialty of pathology, is the study of how and why people die.


A. All violent and suspicious death require an autopsy to determine the time and precise cause of death.

B. Examples of questions the autopsy may answer include but are not limited to:

1. What type of weapon was employed?

2. If multiple wounds were inflicted, which wound was fatal?

3. How long did the victim live after the injury?

4. What position was the victim in at the time of the assault?

C. Answers to all or even some of these questions increase the possibility of bringing the death investigation to a successful conclusion.


Personal identification is one of the most important functions of an investigation.

A. Personality Reconstruction from Unidentified Remains

The identification of deceased persons takes on additional difficulty when the body is badly decomposed.

1. However, remarkable work has been done in recent years by scientists in identifying such victims.

X. THE SEARCH FOR BURIED BODIES (See Slides 9-7, 9-8, 9-9 and 9-10)

A. Pre-planning

One important facet of major case investigations is administrative preplanning, an area that is frequently and unfortunately neglected.

B. Discovery

Many buried bodies come to light accidentally. Occasionally, information is received that a body is buried at a particular location; these cases will be considered later.

C. Excavation

The surface of the grave should now be carefully cleared of extraneous material with a flat-bladed spade or hand trowel so that the boundary of the actual grave may be visible.

D. The Body

When the body is uncovered and has tissue remaining on it, the forensic pathologist may make an on-scene cursory examination.

E. Search for a Buried Body

In some cases, information is received through an informant, a citizen, or a confession that a body has been buried, and an approximate location is given.


F. Use of Cadaver Dogs

Dogs have been used in a variety of forensic contexts because of their superior sense of smell.


A. Body Cooling (Algor Mortis)

After death, the body cools from its normal internal temperature of 98.6° F to the surrounding environmental temperature.

B. Rigor Mortis

After death the muscles of the body initially become flaccid. Within 1 to 3 hours they become increasingly rigid and the joints freeze by a process called rigor mortis (or postmortem rigidity or rigor).

C. Livor Mortis

A purplish color that appears under the skin on those portions of the body closest to the ground denotes livor mortis.

D. Cadaveric Spasm

Although firm statements are frequently made concerning the instantaneous tightening of an extremity or other part of the body at the time of death (commonly called a "death grip"), there seems to be a general failure to explain its mechanism.

E. Decomposition

The different rates and types of decompositoin a body undergoes depends upon the environment.

F. Determination of Time of Death by Means of Carrion Insects

The forensic entomologist can help in estimating the time of death by examining the various carrion insects, because different carrion insects successfully attack the body at various stages of decomposition and under certain environmental conditions.

1. Collection of carrion insects from a clothes and decomposing body. Collection of the insects should begin in the facial area of the decomposing body, because it is the first to undergo degradation by insects.

2. Collection of carrion insects from human skeletal remains. Close examination of the cavities of a skeleton (before it is removed from the crime scene) usually produces numerous insect remains.

G. Use of Aquatic Insects in Determining Submersion Interval

Although potentially valuable, the use of aquatic insects in determining submersion intervals at death scene investigations has not been exploited.

XII. EVIDENCE FROM WOUNDS (See Slides 9-12, 9-13, 9-14, 9-15 and 9-16)

A. Firearm Wounds

When a bullet strikes a body, the skin is first pushed in and then perforated while in the stretched state. After the bullet has passed, the skin partially returns to its original position, and the entry opening is drawn together and is thus smaller than the diameter of the bullet.

1. Close and distant shots. It is very important to be able to estimate the distance from which a shot was fired.

2. Shotgun wounds. A shotgun is a smoothbore, shoulder-fired firearm and is usually used to fire multiple pellets, rather than a single slug.

a. Entrance wounds. From contact to 12 inches, there is a single round entrance 0.75 to 1 inch in diameter.

b. The wad. At close ranges, the wad will be propelled into the body through the large single entrance wound.

c. Range determination. Range determinations can be made later if the size of the shotgun pattern is described at autopsy and duplicated on paper.

d. Exit wounds. Shotgun pellets very rarely exit except when used as instruments of suicide in the region of the head.

3. Firearm residues. Detecting firearm residues on the hands of an individual may be of great importance in evaluating deaths due to gunshot wounds.

a. Atomic absorption analysis and neutron activation analysis. The two methods for the detection of firearm discharge residue that have received the greatest attention in recent years are atomic absorption analysis and neutron activation analysis.

b. Removal of gunshot residue. Whatever the system of analysis to which the pathologist has access, the procedures for removal of firearm discharge residues from the hand are the same. The solution most commonly used is of dilute acid.

B. Incised and Stab Wounds

The incised wound—more commonly referred to as the "cutting wound"—is inflicted with a sharp-edged instrument such as a knife or razor.

C. Puncture Wounds

The weapon most frequently used in assaults resulting in puncture wounds once was the ice pick. Today leather punches and screwdrivers are more commonly used.

D. Lacerations

When used in an assault, clubs, pipes, pistols, or other such blunt objects can produce open, irregularly shaped wounds termed lacerations.

E. Defense Wounds

Defense wound are suffered by victims attempting to protect themselves from an assault, often by a knife or club.

F. Strangulation Wounds

1. Ligature strangulation. In ligature strangulation, the pressure on the neck is applied by a constricting band that is tightened by a force other than the body.

2. Manual strangulation. Manual strangulation is produced by pressure of the hand, forearm, or other limb against the neck, compressing the internal structures of the neck.



A. Officers sometimes find victims uncooperative in identifying assailants and in providing details about offenses.

B. The uncooperative victim creates both legal and investigative difficulties.

XIV. SUICIDE (See Slides 9-17 and 9-18)

A. Methods and Evidence of Suicide

1. Gunshot wounds. Handguns and shotguns are often used.

2. Hanging. Certain misconceptions associated with suicidal hangings can lead to erroneous conclusions.

3. Sleeping pills and other pharmaceuticals. Sleeping pills and other pharmaceuticals have for many years been a common means of committing suicide.

4. Drowning. The majority of drowning incidents are either accidental or suicidal, but some are homicidal.

5. Cutting and piercing instruments. The instruments ordinarily employed in suicides by cutting are razor blades, knives, and occasionally glass.

6. Poisons. The ingestion of liquid poisons is sometimes clear from outward signs on the body.

7. Gasses. The gas most frequently involved in medico-legal investigations is carbon monoxide.

8. Jumping from high places. The major question to be answered in death resulting from jumping is whether the victim voluntarily leaped or was thrown or pushed.

9. Vehicle suicide. The motor vehicle as a means of suicide, although not as common as the means previously discussed, is one that police officers should be sensitive to. Usually a vehicle suicide entails a single occupant speeding into an off-road obstacle.

B. The Suicide Note

Research indicates that suicide notes are not left in most suicides.

C. Gender Differences in Suicidal Behavior

Studies of suicide in the United States indicate that the suicide rate is higher for men than for women, whereas the attempted suicide rate is higher for women than men.

D. Suicide-Insurance Schemes

Sometimes individuals take their own lives and try to convey the impression that the death was accidental or even homicidal.


A. Physical Evidence from Hit-and-Run Accidents

The physical evidence created by hit-and-run accidents is located at the scene, on the victim’s body, and on the hit-and-run vehicle.

B. Search for the Vehicle

The steps to be taken in searching for a hit-and-run vehicle depend mainly on information provided by witnesses and victim and by physical evidence located at the scene.

XVI. FIRE DEATHS (See Slice 9-20)

A. Coordination and Cooperation

Coordination of and cooperation between police and fire investigators are of paramount importance in the successful investigation of any questioned fire.

B. Degrees of Burning

Burns are medically classified into four types. The extent of burns may provide information about the proximity of the body to the point of origin of the fire, the length of time the body was exposed to the fire, and the intensity of the fire.

C. Identification of Remains

Because fire destroys human tissue, identification of the remains may be especially difficult.

1. Fingerprints. Although considered the best means of identification because of centralized files of fingerprints, fingerprint identification may not be possible in fire death cases due to the destruction of the skin.

2. Dentition. Being the hardest substance in the human body, teeth are frequently the best form of identification for the fire victim.

3. DNA printing. Following recent advances, identification using DNA printing has emerged as a viable tool in identifying fire death victims.

4. Scars, marks, or tattoos on the exterior of the body. These abnormalities on the skin, like fingerprints, are frequently obscured or destroyed by the fire.

5. Scars, marks, abnormalities, or appliances inside the body. Bone abnormalities, surgical appliances, or operative scars may be helpful, but the investigator must have some idea of who the victim was so that appropriate medical records may be examined.

6. Identification, jewelry, and clothing on the body. The least desirable method is a last resort due to the possibility of substitution.

D. Scene Considerations

As with any physical evidence, burned bodies must be sketched, measured, and photographed in place and in relation to other evidence at the scene of the fire.

E. Examination of the External Body

The body of the deceased should be examined in detail both at the scene and again at the morgue.

1. Signs of trauma. Any sign of injury to the external body should be carefully noted, sketched, and photographed.

2. Skull fracture. Another factor that may be misconstrued is the discovery that the victim’s skull is fractured.

3. Blistering and splitting skin. The inexperienced investigator may be somewhat apprehensive in attempting to evaluate the effects of heat and flame on the skin of the victim.

4. Noncranial fractures. If enough heat is applied, bones shrink, warp, and fracture.

5. Pugilistic attitude. The so-called pugilistic attitude of the body is a natural result of the dehydrating effect caused by the heat from the fire and is not related to the cause or manner of death.

F. Examination of the Internal Body

1. Soot, other debris, or burning in the air passages. These findings may indicate that the decedent was breathing while the fire was burning.

2. Pulmonary edema. Frothy substance in the lungs may result from irritants breathed in during a fire.

3. Epidural hemorrhages. Hemorrhages above the tough membrane covering the brain (the dura mater) and under the skull may occur at the rear of the head due to heat.

4. Internal injuries. All internal injuries should be closely examined, measured, and photographed.

5. Foreign objects. Any foreign objects found in the body, such as bullets, should be recovered as evidence by the investigator.

G. Toxicology Examination

The pathologist should take samples for later examination by a toxicologist.

1. Alcohol. Alcohol in blood indicates whether the decedent was incapacitated at the time of the fire and thus unable to escape.

2. Other drugs. Indicates of other possibly incapacitating drugs may provide new leads.

3. Carboxyhemoglobin. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas present at hazardous levels in all structural fires.

4. Presence of other chemicals. Chemicals given off by burning materials may indicate the accelerant of the fire and that the decedent was breathing them in at the time of the fire.

H. Histologic Examination

Microscopic examination of tissues is also an important part of the postmortem examination and is carried out by the pathologist after selected tissues from the victim have been placed in a fixative, usually for 10 to 14 days.

I. "Flash" Fires

Concentrated burns in one area of a body may indicate the nature and cause of death.

J. Motives of Fire Deaths

In fire deaths, various motives should be kept in mind by investigators.

K. Recording the Scene

Photographs of the body in its original position and of the room or area in which it is found will prove to be very valuable later in the investigation.


A. This type of violence is unquestionably underreported, even by victimization studies.

B. It often happens in private, and many victims are reluctant to report it because they are ashamed, they are afraid of reprisals if they do speak out, they suffer from such low self-esteem that they think they "deserve what they got," or they were raised in violent families where abuse was "normal".

XVIII. STALKING (See Slides 9-21 and 9-22)

A. Stalking is harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person’s property.

B. Legal definitions of stalking vary widely from state to state.

C. The definition of stalking used in the National Violence Against Women (NVAW) survey closely resembles the definition used in the model antistalking code developed for states by the National Institute of Justice.

D. Who are Stalkers?

1. Demographically. Stalking is a gender neutral crime, with both male and female perpetrators and victims. However, most stalkers are men.

2. Common categories of stalkers. The following represent the most common categories of stalkers and stalking behavior.

a. Love Obsession Stalkers. This category is characterized by stalkers who develop a love obsession or fixation on another person with whom they have no personal relationship.

b. Simple Obsession Stalkers. This category represents 70 - 80 percent of stalking cases and is distinguished by the fact that some previous personal or romantic relationship existed between the stalker and the victim before the stalking behavior began.

c. Cyberstalking. The term cyberstalking refers to those individuals who harass their victims on the internet using various modes of transmission such as electronic mail (e-mail), chat rooms, newsgroups, and the World Wide Web.

3. Stalking behavior patterns and cycles.

a. Stalking behavior is as diverse as the stalkers themselves. Yet behavioral experts are beginning to identify patterns in the cycle of violence displayed by simple obsession stalkers.

b. Stalking behavior patterns closely mirror those common in many domestic violence cases.

c. Stalkers, unable to establish or re-establish a relationship of power and control over their victims, turn to violence as a means of reasserting their domination over the victim.

d. As difficult as it is to predict what a stalker might do, it is at least as difficult to predict when he or she might do it.

E. Protective Orders

Most states have laws authorizing civil orders of protection in domestic abuse cases.

1. Protective orders can serve as the first line of defense against stalkers.

2. To be effective, protective orders must be rigorously enforced and violators dealt with in a manner that ensures their strict accountability.

F. Psychological and Social Consequences of Stalking

The NVAW survey produced strong confirmation of the negative mental health impact of stalking.


A. Serial murder was originally described, in early 1980, as "lust murder" The term "serial murder" was first used sometime in 1982 or 1983.

B. For the law enforcement community, "serial murder" usually refers to sexual attacks and the resulting death of young women, men, or children, committed by a killer who tends to follow a distinct physical or psychological pattern.

C. Many social science researchers have found trauma, abuse, and neglect in the childhood of serial killers. The social and psychological deprivation consistently identified in the childhood of serial killers would certainly indicate a strong correlation between such a childhood and serial killing.

D. Research on serial murder has focused on finding similarities among murders. The victims of serial killers have largely been ignored.


A. But because many serial murderers cover many miles in a short period of time, the FBI has developed the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime

B. VI-CAP Crime Report

When a violent crime remains unsolved for a period of time, the local law enforcement agency provides details about it on a special violent-criminal apprehension program (VI-CAP) reporting form.

C. Flow of Information

Information flow in the VI-CAP process is outlined in the text.


A. Criminal investigative analysis, formerly referred to as psychological profiling, is the analysis of crime scene patterns in order to identify the personality and behavioral characteristics of offenders who commit serial crimes of rape and homicide.

B. The concept of criminal investigative analysis works in tandem with the search for physical evidence.

C. Psychological evidence, like physical evidence, varies, and so the profile may also vary.

D. Profilers need wide exposure to crime scenes to discern patterns and some exposure to criminals who have committed similar crimes.